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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama signs executive orders on transparency, ethics
Safiya Boucaud at 8:30 AM ET

[JURIST] US President Barack Obama [official profile] on Wednesday issued the first executive orders of his presidency, focusing on White House ethics and transparency. The executive order on Presidential Records [text] grants broader public access to the records of previous presidential administrations, reversing restrictions implemented by former President George W. Bush. The second executive order on Ethics Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel [text] bans those individuals from accepting gifts from lobbyists and implements so-called "revolving door bans" to restrict personnel movement between related public and private sector jobs within certain time frames. Obama also issued a memorandum [text, PDF] calling for new Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) [text] agency guidelines and a presumption of transparency:

All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government. The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA.

The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should take affirmative steps to make information public. They should not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.

I direct the Attorney General to issue new guidelines governing the FOIA to the heads of executive departments and agencies, reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency.
During remarks at the document signing [transcript and video], Obama called the FOIA "perhaps the most powerful instrument we have for making our government honest and transparent, and of holding it accountable."

Obama campaigned on promises to increase White House transparency, following criticisms of secrecy in the Bush administration [JURIST report]. The Presidential Records order revoked a November 2001 executive order from Bush [E.O. 13,233 text], purportedly issued to further implement the Presidential Records Act of 1978 [text] by ensuring that former presidents and vice-presidents had the power to review presidential papers and documents before their release to the public under the FOIA. In October 2007, a federal judge for the US District Court for the District of Columbia ruled [opinion, PDF] that the National Archives could not rely on that executive order [JURIST report] to delay the release of administration records.





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